According to Roll Call, a Washington, D.C. publication for political insiders, the Rev. LaSimba Gray is asking members of the Congressional Black Caucus to "stay out" of the 2008 Democratic primary race pitting incumbent 9th District congressman Steve Cohen against repeat challenger Nikki Tinker.
Noting an appearance in Memphis last weekend on Cohen's behalf by U.S. Rep. Emanuel Cleaver of Kansas City, who is black, Gray said, according to the newspaper, ""Steve Cohen has been quoting many of them heavily and bringing them into the district and we are simply asking them to stay out of this race."
Gray strove unsuccessfully during the 2006 congressional race to winnow down a large field of African-American candidates to a consensus black candidate to oppose Cohen, who, as the minister noted, is both white and Jewish.
Roll Call quoted Gray as contending that the second-place finish in last year's primary of Tinker, a corporate attorney, meant that "she has won ... the primary of African-American candidates." Gray said further, "The road has been cleared for Nikki and we are busy meeting with candidates who ran last time to show them the reality -- the fact that with all of them in the race they can't win."
Gray's concept of a black-versus-white showdown was frowned on by Cleaver spokesman Danny Rotert, who remarked that Cohen seemed to stand high in the estimate of his constituents and observed, "If somebody here [Kansas City] said Congressman Cleaver can't represent his district because it's a [majority] white district, that would not go very far. So it's too bad that that's the rhetoric that's being used in Memphis."
As of the last Federal Election Commission filing, Roll Call noted, Tinker had $172,000 in cash on hand compared to Cohen's $374,000. As the periodical also observed, the feminist organization Emily's List, which supported Tinker strongly in 2006, has so far been non-committal about 2008.
A number of Tinker's former Memphis supporters have also indicated they will not be backing her in next year's race. One such, lawyer Laura Hine, said she had committed to Tinker in 2006 before Cohen made his candidacy known. Affirming her support for Cohen in next year's race, Hine said recently, "The fact is, he's been a very effective congressman, speaking to all the issues I care about."
One such issue, according to Hine, was pending federal Hate Crimes legislation, which Cohen has backed and Tinker has been silent about. Rev. Gray recently made an effort to organize opposition to Cohen's stand among black ministers, on the ground that the bill would muzzle their opposition to homosexuality.
Other local African-American ministers, like the Rev. Ralph White and the Rev. O.C. Collins Jr., have refuted that allegation, citing specific sections of the bill, and made a point of supporting Cohen. The Memphis chapter of the NAACP also recently affirmed its support of the bill and Cohen's activities on its behalf.